Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for a Composition of the Deluge

c.1802–5

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Chalk on paper
Dimensions
Support: 436 x 271 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D05022
Turner Bequest LXXXI 120

Catalogue entry

Inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation, the subject is continued on folio 62 recto opposite (D05023; Turner Bequest LXXXI 121). Turner would appear, judging from his inscription, to have regarded this as a study directly related to his finished picture of The Deluge, of about 1805 (Tate N00493),1 but this is a radically different composition.
Another study using the motif of the submerged temple is Tate D08238 (Turner Bequest CXX X), where a single column and perhaps a lintel are indicated emerging from the floods. In a wash drawing made in preparation for an unpublished plate in the Liber Studiorum series (Tate D08178; Turner Bequest CXVIII X), the pediment of a submerged temple is visible in the distance. This does not appear in the mezzotint plate that Turner himself executed in the late 1810s (Tate impression, printed in 1898: A01155). Both drawing and plate are loosely based on the composition of the 1805 painting.
Turner was drawn to the Deluge subject particularly after seeing the painting Winter: The Deluge, one of a set of four illustrating the Seasons by the French artist Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) in the Louvre during his visit to Paris in 1802, on which he penned perceptive comments in the Studies in the Louvre sketchbook (Tate D04327–D04328; Turner Bequest LXXII 41a–42). Turner’s drawing may incorporate echoes of the very large painting by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) of the Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, September 1782 (‘The Siege of Gibraltar’) (Guildhall Art Gallery, London), in which figures climbing the rigging of burning ships fill the left–hand side of the design, while others flounder in the sea below them. Copley’s picture was shown in London from 1792.2

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

1
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.43–4 no.55, pl.65 (colour).
2
See Wilton 2006, p.115.

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